Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Ending

Though I ended my last post with a promise to write more about work therapy and the ways that many did in fact benefit from the time and labour that they contributed to the development of Therafields properties, I find myself unable to do so. I have approached writing about Therafields three times over the past 14 years, each time putting much thought and focus into it. After a number of months, however, I have found that my concentration on the material begins to wane. The subject is so vast if taken in all of its many components one could continue almost indefinitely a consideration of events, motivations both conscious and unconscious, and, of course, results. This time around I have had the blog format allowing me to not just think and write, but also to publish some of my thoughts and those of the people whom I interviewed.

I appreciate the emails and comments received from the readers of my posts. I know that the publication of Grant’s book and of my posts has stirred memories for many and controversy for some. I have decided to cease my writing on this topic for the time being. I don’t know when or what might galvanize me to begin again. In the meantime I encourage others to write their own thoughts and feelings about this seminal period in the lives of all of us who were a part of Therafields.

June 3, 2012. Looking at this post more than a year after it was written, it is clear to me that I did not continue with my writing at that time because of a sense of having upset and angered some people by my views and statements. True, I had received a fair amount of positive commentary, but there was also another, more negative feeling coming my way that I found difficult to deal with. It's a hard thing to write about an area in which one is as intimately involved as I have been without upsetting people, sometimes people whom one cares for and respects. This has been the biggest barrier to my continuing though it is clear to me that much more could be said about the various aspects of Therafields and of Lea and her family. Our experience is not entirely unique. Rather, parallels can be found in other intentional communities of that and other eras. At this time I am not sure whether or not I will go back once again to reflections on this material.


  1. Thanks, Brenda, for opening this up. I found revisiting those years painful but helpful in sorting out memories that have continued to haunt me.

  2. Brenda: Thank you for doing this. There should have been a funeral for Therafields. It might have given us a chance to mourn and celebrate its demise, to deliberate on our collective virtues and vices, and to grieve the ceding of our psychic integrity to a sham world which we mistook for a new Jerusalem. The bitter pill is that we who stayed colluded in our own betrayal - this time not as children but as adults. I came away realizing that I am the journey myself - that I must always be the keeper of my flame, my soul, my self.

  3. " The thing that concerns me most about cult groups is the unconscious manipulation.... the way in which the repressed and unreflected childhood biographies of... therapists influence the lives of... patients entrusted to their care without anyone involved actually realizing it." -- Alice Miller, Paths of Life (2009), p.124

    Leah - charismatic as she was - could only take people she trained and worked with as far down the road to honesty, self-knowledge, and soul healing as she had travelled herself.

  4. Brenda: I have just read Grant's book. I feel sad but in no way surprised. The story of Therafields is the mirror image of the Smith family drama. The latter drove the former.

    Therafields did three things for me. At the beginning in 1968, group living sheltered me during a difficult time in my life. Eventually, I read extensively in the therapeutic literature and began to identify what was useful or not. Finally, I helped look after Visvaldis during the last year of his life, and this experience changed my life. I am grateful for all three happenings.

    I smelt a rat soon after I started therapy with Tom O'Sullivan. Based on his reading of Berger, Tom confronted me on my "homosexuality." Of course I had issues with my mother, but I was taken aback by such careless use of this word by a psychologist. Next, I was confronted about practising "black magic" in order to be selected by Tom and Lea as a member of CAG. I hadn't asked to join and was surprised to have such power ascribed to me. I realized this was not a safe therapeutic environment, and I kept my own counsel from then on - at a cost in 1968 of $250.00/month or app. $1,700.00/month in 2011 dollars.

    Healing and changing has been an enduring endeavour for me, and I have tried to learn from the good and the bad, my mistakes and those of others. Life is bittersweet and precious.

    Be Well.

  5. A fine piece of work, Brenda. I have been waiting years for someone to do this. Paul Hennig

  6. Brenda,
    I just now recently discovered your website and I admire your courage and intelligence in wadeing into all we went through with Thearafields. Granted much good work was done by fine people, but it all was so compromised by others.
    One of the darkest chapters for me was Josie having sex with her clients, particularly with Jerry Johnson with whom she had a child. Then when the relationship broke down, she denied him access to his child claiming he was a pedophile, We, his friends which included several well-respected therapists from Hypno 1, knew he was no pedophile. When Josie was not confronted on all this egregious breach of any kind professional and ethical behavior, my confidence in the integrity of Therafields was finished. Then Jerry was offered intensive therapy for his pedophilia, it was like a scene out of a Soviet Russian mental hospital.
    But the status given to Lea and the children made any confrontation of any of them impossible; status grounded in the collective transference by the community onto Lea, which should have been worked through like any competent therapist would have done, but no, Lea gloried in it all. On special occasions, She and Visalia would get dressed up in these long ceremonial robes. Lea, with this long blond hairpiece braided down her back, and a pendant and bracelets, etc. The two of them made up like some mythic Nordic deities and the community lapped it up.
    Then there was the old Gloria Swanson estate. Lea already had one house in Florida, but then she found the Swanson place in a somewhat dilapidated state and at an attractive price. She saw the restoration possible with her faithful workers and they came in droves, giving up their time and holidays for the privilege of working for Lea. I could not believe my eyes. It was the same with the penthouse apartment she bought at The Palace Pier. I would occasionally go there to work just to see my friends. You are totally correct on the Willow. It was a high-end accommodation for the elite of the community. The cars told a lot as well: Lea’s gold Cadillac, Visaldis’ Mercedes convertible, Robbie’s Corvette Sting Ray.

  7. A continuation-
    I first heard of Therafields in 1968 from Ed Kuntz, an old friend from the Brazilian Fathers seminary, which I left in 1965. He told me what he and a number of ex-Basilians were doing in Toronto. These were some of the best and brightest people I had ever known- like Tom O’Sullivan, Mike Queally, Stan Kutz, Mo Farge and more. It sounded so great! I started therapy commuting from Buffalo where I was teaching at Buffalo State. Then in 1970, I got a job at Humber College and moved into 72 Kendal. As time went on and I saw more and more of what was going on, but it must have been OK because it was with all these good, sound, brilliant people.
    One of my most cowardly moments was with Howard Adelmen. Howard was not in therapy; his wife Margret was. Howard was consulted on the organizational and fiscal structure of the community because he was a very smart guy. But, when he gave them, Lea, et al, feedback they didn’t like, Howard was branded a persona non-gratis, a hostile paranoid and we, the Brunswick Seminar, were not to have any contact with him. Supposedly to force him into therapy and I caved in and cut off the fond friendship I had with him. Years later, Howard graciously accepted my apology and we resumed our friendship.
    This is the stuff of cults. Howard saw Therafields very clearly. He said to me, “It’s like a giant wedding cake with Lea and Visvaldis on top, then her children, Josie, Rob, Malcolm and Barrie, too. The next tier was Hypno I, then CAG, then the Brunswick Group, then everyone else in the house groups. Finally, everyone else receiving therapy. The communication and feedback went from the top downward. Likewise any confrontation, of course.
    I knew a few of the parents of the children at the Ka School. When they were concerned about their children living at the school with Malcolm and the hostilities he was stirring up in them (this was before they knew anything about him having sex with their daughters), they were told by Tom O’ they need not worry “because of Malcolm’s unique position in the community.” And this from one of best and trusted minds from the Basilians. I was stunned. Thus, I learned is the power of transference.
    When I speak of my experience with Therafields with my family and friends, I often say, ‘this is a book that needs to be written. It could be called “The Betrayal of the Dream.” I could not do it; I was not close enough to the inner circle. I am very glad for your website, Brenda, and I am looking forward to Grant’s book for which I have an order. It looks like a good job. I fondly remember you, Brenda, singing, “The L and M Don’t Stop Here Anymore” with Andy. You two were so great.
    Therafields was a dream. Lea spoke of a dream she actually had, where we all were marching out into the world to free it from its neurosis and forward to a new and whole life. A vision of a future we were going to create. We were going the cure the world of its emotional plague. This was the dream of all of us. It was what held us altogether, but we were manipulated by this great hope.
    But the therapist must first be cured of his own neurosis if he is to be healer and that was the fatal flaw and the betrayer of the Dream. To control the psychology and the metaphysics of a group is to control everything and Lea and company were in control of both for the sake of their own agenda. Paul
    P.S. Good to hear from Greg, an old fond friend and very smart guy.

    Main Photo

  8. P.S. If any one would like to correspond with me, my E-Mail is HennigPaul@yahoo.ca

  9. Phew. This is not the Therafields I experienced.

  10. Funny, I can see the truth of all that is written above and still I loved that flawed lady Lea and the crazy wonderful experience of Therafields.
    Philip Ames

  11. I was online looking for a new therapist after some thirty years of coming up with my own answers, consulting pals, and I found your blog - wow! - I spent the entire day reading here. I feel the need to add a bit:
    Firstly, hello Paul you wonderful person, I recall you well.
    And, it is true as you say Brenda, that the wealth of friendships we made in those days, so deeply and so quickly, are priceless.
    I would like to add that it is my experience of the world since Therafields that a big idea has a lot of complications, because life is not an equation or a trial or a dream, and this very big idea from a young Lea was messy as she grew old, as her children and friends grew up, and as she struggled with the need for love, a perception of financial stability, ego, loss - as we all struggle, as we all see that you have dreams but reality soon moves in on your constructs - the reality of life is that you lose the control of your adolescent imaginings. So, given that she had a knack for inspiring greatness and the courage in clients to batter down blocks to spirited behaviour, I think it is understandable that Lea made this her life's work. And she saw that there was a man who sexually and spiritually nurtured her, and she brought him on board, though he was problematic, though her first husband was left in the lurch, though her practice was professionally compromised, she saw a man who encouraged her to be all she could be. And she saw that her children were uncontrollable, as lively children are and ought to be, they became Themselves, but how troubling to her that these selves were as complicated as she was, and often horrifically so, unbridled, self centred, without the dream she'd had for doing good. And then trying to just put her head down and work it through wilfully, she became ill, physically and overtired, mentally, and the thing she'd dreamed of came apart. However, just like Lea, none of us can live in such a way that we control others, we can only do our best to do good with the givens at hand. So, those who gave their judgement away, about themselves, about their children, their parents, have learned never to do that. There is no inviolable dream. I say this not out of cruelty - because what happened at the school or in some of the houses in inexcusable - but out of recognition that there is a kind of personality detente necessary to live in a world full of variables: I was given somethings very important by Lea, and my housegroup, and my therapist, I would not have gone on to have the full vibrant life, yes with its ups and downs, if not for these fine people. But because I was raised in violence I never trusted too much, as I believe no being should. There are no human saviours. The most essential relation I have found is the one between parent and child: so in every instance after Therafields I asked myself in raising children, what would I have wanted at that life stage, and then I did it. Often others disagreed, but I did it by my own intuition. Perhaps there is a God out there, but I know for sure that there is god inside, every time my children look into me and I into them. As Lea said, though as a person found it hard to follow, we can only do our best to speak only from a source of Love. Thank you for a brilliant afternoon of reflection.

    1. Thanks for your well-written reflections. Especially...the quote..to speak only from a source of Love.

  12. On Carole Giangrande's site, http://carolesbooktalk.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/a-sixties-tale-grant-goodbrands-therafields/ I just commented on a very astute post by Dennis Duffy, which I've edited and reposted here. He had drawn the explicit link between abuse in the Catholic Church and abuse in Therafields, and the similarities in power dynamics and responses (I paraphrase after one reading; don't quote me, read it yourself).

    www.straight.com/life/book-review-therafields-grant-goodbrand That's a link to my review of the book.
    "There’s the direct link to my 400 word review (50 over their normal count, and 50,000 under what I could say about it). Dennis, yes, absolutely – the parallels between the hierarchical structure and self-serving denialism of the Catholic Church and Therafields are not merely metaphor, but reflect the parent organization from where many of the prime movers came from and the wellspring of the worst aspects, in my opinion.

    Many of us children are still trying to cope and heal from the trauma of our experiences under (not in) Therafields and the various incarnations of Malcolm’s school, and yet many adults seem to want to wax nostalgic about “the good old days.”

    Anybody who wants to preserve anything of value that existed then (and yes, I *can* remember some that was good), should extend themselves to help those who were out-and-out abused by their time there. Some made careers, while others – largely children, there involuntarily – were traumatized. And in an organization at least in part aiming to heal people from their childhood traumas, that legacy was hypocrisy worthy of the finest papal regalia.

    Tom Snyders" sum.x.y.com@gmail.com

  13. Hi Tom. Thanks for the heads-up about Dennis Duffy's response to Carole's review. If any of the people that you are referring to from Ka want to get in touch with me, I would happily see if there is anything I could do for them. There are people who care deeply about what happened during that period. Brenda.

  14. Wow---Worst thing was that gay was not an acceptable identity. The therapists tried to cure us of being gay--nobody ever said "Maybe you are gay and that's fine." I finally became free when I saw a therapist outside the community and just tried to find out who I was--GAY. Wish I had spent those Saturdays at the Farm cruising and eating more than 2 salads for lunch. But there were good people there, and I am OK now. BE

  15. I am still trying to get closure in my life about Therafields. I wish we had held a funeral, that would have helped. Elle Gallagher

  16. Hi Elle. I don't think that there is really ever "closure" about any of the facets of our lives. Our history is what it is. I'd be happy to talk with you about this any time though, if you want to call or email me. Brenda.

  17. Hi Elle. I don't think that there is really ever "closure" about any of the facets of our lives. Our history is what it is. I'd be happy to talk with you about this any time though, if you want to call or email me. Brenda.